QUESTIONS are being raised about the independence of a former Saskatchewan premier whose report into Manitoba mega-projects will be released Friday.
Brad Wall, who was premier from 2007 to 2018, led the right-leaning Saskatchewan Party, and was even touted as a possible leadership contender for the federal Conservative party in 2019 when Andrew Scheer stepped down.
On Thursday, the NDP said Wall’s consulting work and ties to a Calgary firm, which registered to lobby the province, undermine his actual or perceived impartiality and his ability to conduct his role as head of the probe into Manitoba Hydro.
Wall dismissed the notion he has any real or perceived conflict of interest.
"There is no conflict of interest," Wall wrote in an email Thursday. "I look forward to presenting the report (Friday)."
In October 2018, the PC government ordered the $2.5-million economic review of Bipole III and the Keeyask generating station, two Hydro mega-projects that cost billions more than originally planned by the previous NDP government.
Wall took over as commissioner of the inquiry in November 2019, with the power to subpoena witnesses and produce documents.
He has also done consulting work for Calgary-based Avenue Living Asset Management, which has registered to lobby the Manitoba government on "housing and property management" matters, the NDP said.
Wall dismissed the NDP’s point.
"If there were meetings between Avenue Living representatives and government of Manitoba offices, I was neither aware of them nor involved," he said.
The government’s chief spokesman said the NDP’s allegation that Wall has a conflict of interest is "an attempt to distract Manitobans and the media from their actions while in government."
"The yarn they are trying to spin is absurd, and is a waste of your time," Blake Robert, director of media relations and issue management, said in an email. An NDP MLA was also listed as a target of Avenue Living on the Manitoba Lobbyist Registry, Robert said, which the NDP failed to mention.
"I think the Opposition have also been alleging that I would be recommending the privatization of Manitoba Hydro," Wall said, dismissing the NDP’s allegations.
"I understand the nature of opposition politics, but this allegation is also false," Wall said.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said Manitobans need to know Wall is neither impartial nor qualified to investigate Manitoba Hydro mega-projects.
"This is not some kind of fact-finding commission headed up by a judge, this is somebody with a very hard, partisan slant," Kinew said.
Wall’s main credentials — what got him hired by the Pallister government — were his attacks on the NDP in Saskatchewan, not his power-generation business savvy, Kinew charged.
"Manitoba’s way ahead of Saskatchewan in terms of what we need to do with a safe clean energy supply, so why do we have somebody from a province that’s a laggard relative to Manitoba on the environmental front? It doesn’t make sense to me," said Kinew.
"He’s just another guy out there who’s scooping up contracts. He hasn’t really left politics. He’s still operating in these circles."
It’s not the first time Wall has had to defend his impartiality. Last year, Indigenous leaders expressed concerns that Wall’s employer, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, has represented both Hydro and the province in cases against First Nations and Métis groups. Indigenous leaders alleged a conflict of interest, which Wall — who is not a lawyer but is listed as a special adviser at the law firm — insisted doesn’t exist.
In May, Tataskweyak Cree Nation, also known as Split Lake, led a blockade of the Keeyask site, over concerns Manitoba Hydro hadn’t adequately consulted on a plan to fly in workers from outside the province during the COVID-19 pandemic. Osler successfully got an injunction on Hydro’s behalf, to have demonstrators arrested. The Crown corporation negotiated a peaceful resolution with the four bands involved in the project.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.